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Conversation starter: staff, professors lead anti-racist discussions to build equity

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Remy Gottschling

Staff writer

door outside the Renjen Center
Photo by Grace Shiffrin.

Willamette University's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has planned a series of discussions based around the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. These discussions are on a number of subjects surrounding what the Willamette community can do to become more anti-racist in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement. Discussions, held over Zoom on Tuesdays and Thursdays, include such topics as social identity and dismantling myths around race that one might hear in a classroom setting. You can find information about upcoming meetings [on Willamette's website under the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion].

The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge is part of a larger movement of the Willamette community towards becoming not only a more diverse community, but a more equitable place. “A good first step is just to get educated on a basic level,” says Jade Aguilar, vice president of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, “this is what these conversations provide for everyone in the audience who is there to listen.”

“These discussions are really open to anyone who wants to come, but they’re really geared towards white students and faculty who want to learn how to be actively anti-racist,” says Emma Coddington, an associate profesor of biology who spoke during Tuesday’s discussion on social identity. “It’s one thing to read and listen to people, but actually having a discussion is what really leads to people learning in an effective manner.”

One of the most important actions made during the planning of the conversations is making sure that people from every area of the school are represented. “We’re really trying to get everyone on campus a platform in these discussions,” says Aguilar, “this means we’ll hear voices from coaches, professors, students, faculty and staff members.”

“My goal with my presentation was to really get a discussion started in the community I spend my time in,” says Kip Ioane, head coach of the men’s basketball team. “I’ve led conversations like these in the past but most of them were centered around gender, so putting a race or ethnicity lense on it all just put it into view how similar a lot of these issues are.”

“We’re trying to create an environment that leads to more equitable experiences for everyone,” says Aguilar, “this is still only the first step in our process, but once we get to an understanding on what equity is, then we can move to the next steps.”

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